Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo’s Villanova heroics primed him for NBA

SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 02: Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts after a shot in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 2, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
SAN ANTONIO, TX - APRIL 02: Donte DiVincenzo #10 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts after a shot in the second half against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2018 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 2, 2018 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

Donte DiVincenzo found his footing with the Milwaukee Bucks this season, but his rise wouldn’t have come without his run with Villanova during the NCAA Tournament two years ago.

Before the Milwaukee Bucks’ 2019-20 season was unceremoniously paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, Donte DiVincenzo was only getting started.

DiVincenzo was in the midst of a breakout sophomore season where his do-it-all, energetic nature led to him carving out a crucial role within the Bucks’ foundation and putting together some of his best performances before this hiatus. Given his ability to rise in big moments historically, DiVincenzo looked set to be a player to watch in the Bucks’ playoff run that ultimately may never come this season.

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DiVincenzo is a little more than two years removed from the glowing run he had with his alma mater, Villanova University, during the 2018 NCAA Tournament that capped off his illustrious run on the collegiate level.

Certainly, no one can forget the game-breaking 31-point performance that propelled DiVincenzo to the national stage and to ultimately declare for the 2018 NBA Draft, where he was selected by the Bucks with the 17th overall pick.

Scoring the most points of any reserve player in a championship game, DiVincenzo’s performance in the 79-62 win over the University of Michigan served as the basis for him being named the NCAA’s Most Outstanding Player in that season’s Final Four.

Revisiting the performance now, all of the traits that have certainly been on display throughout DiVincenzo’s nascent Bucks stint were there before a national audience. A barrage of five triples and 10-of-15 shooting, along with five boards, three assists and a pair of blocks, helped DiVincenzo’s quintessential outburst to lead the Wildcats to their second NCAA title in three years under head coach Jay Wright.

DiVincenzo’s performance against Michigan managed to exemplify how he went on to impact the Wildcats throughout that whole season. It’s a testament to Wright’s development pedigree at Villanova that DiVincenzo’s contributions and overall influence were showcased all season long and subsequently exploded in their biggest game of the season as Wright told Marc Tracy of the New York Times in June of 2018:

"“We saw that every day in practice, but he played on a team where we didn’t need him to do that a lot,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said of DiVincenzo, a 21-year-old guard who was a redshirt sophomore last season.Wright added, “It just happened to be, the night we needed him to do it was the championship game, and everyone was watching.”"

But DiVincenzo’s signature performance of his basketball career alone didn’t catapult him to test the draft waters and bet on himself following his redshirt sophomore season.

DiVincenzo’s performance at the 2018 NBA Draft Combine, both in the athletic testing and playing in the 5-on-5 setting, further sent his draft stock soaring, enough to finally put his name forth right before the early entry deadline.  At the time, DiVincenzo talked about his dilemma of returning for another year at Villanova or going pro to USA Today’s Scott Gleeson:

"“If I stay in the draft (or go back to ‘Nova), this whole process been great and I’ve been enjoying it,” DiVincenzo said. “(Teams) have been trying to figure out more about me. I’m not very well known. Not before all that attention in the (NCAA) tournament. … After (the national championship game), the outside perspective of me kinda blew up and made (the NBA) a realization for me.”"

As it turns out, DiVincenzo had long been tracked by Bucks general manager Jon Horst as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix wrote about earlier in this Bucks season and DiVincenzo’s interviews and interactions with Horst and head coach Mike Budenholzer further cemented him as the team’s guy in that draft:

"“For years, Bucks GM Jon Horst tracked DiVincenzo. He admired DiVincenzo’s decision to play in the draft combine, a choice surefire first round picks rarely make. He recalled inviting DiVincenzo to a group workout before the draft. Several likely first-rounders, including Grayson Allen and Jerome Robinson, participated. DiVincenzo was battling an injury. Horst recalls DiVincenzo’s desperately trying to get into the workout anyway. DiVincenzo’s sitdown with Horst and Budenholzer went so well, Horst said, that both left the room saying the same thing: This is our guy.”"

The body of work that DiVincenzo put together at Villanova certainly played a part in his selection in that draft, but without the launching pad of his showings during the championship game and that year’s combine, one can only wonder how much differently the start of DiVincenzo’s NBA career could have gone.

Considering this 2020 NBA Draft class won’t have the same benefits that DiVincenzo had in effectively being able to push forward and start their professional career in such visible fashion robs them of a critical opportunity, especially in weighing such a weighty decision in entering the NBA Draft.

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As they say, timing is everything and whether it’s been during his time at Villanova under Wright or with the Bucks under Budenholzer, DiVincenzo has shown the ability to seize the moment when it strikes.